It’s easy to get lost in our inboxes. How many times have you been in the middle of responding to one email when another, seemingly more urgent, one comes in? Or how many times have you filed away an email to handle it later, only to find that you can’t remember the subject line to search for it?

There are three areas that need to be addressed in every email subject line, and when you cover them, with or without acronyms, your employees will inevitably save time.

Topic

Clarifying the topic of your email seems like a no-brainer, but we still see plenty of  one-word subject lines or forwarded emails whose subject lines no longer make sense. When teaching your employees how to craft subject lines, make it clear that writing “Thoughts?” with no context won’t fly.

In my company’s case, internal communication often centers around a specific book project. We make it a point to include the book’s title or author in the subject line to help keep emails organized. Whether you work on specific projects with names or not, ask your staff to consider how they would search through their tens of thousands of emails to find this one again and draft subject lines accordingly.

Time

Many people block off specific times in their days to respond to emails. This can create problems when urgent issues come up that need to be addressed right away. But without the word URGENT in the title, how would the recipient know you needed a response by noon?

All employees should understand the value of their colleagues’ and superiors’ time (not to mention their own time). There are several ways that a subject line can help the recipient quickly determine if they need to read that email right this minute, or if it can wait until higher priority items are taken care of. Here a few common ways of doing so in the subject line:

  • Urgent: If you need an answer right away, make that clear.

  • PRB: This means “please respond by” and is followed by a date. Do you need something by the end of the day (EOD), end of the week (EOW), or at a date much farther in the future?

  • EOM: Writing EOM, or End of Message, is another nice signal that the recipient does not need to spend any more time reading the email. Rather, all the necessary information is in the subject line, such as “Jane Out of the Office Today [EOM]”

Action

The biggest factor in how long it will take someone to act on an email of course depends on the action required of them. Was the email simply informative, or do you need approval on something? Use the subject line to indicate what you’re asking the recipient to do  to help them prioritize their inbox and improve response times.

Here the most common ways of clearly stating the action needed:

  • FYI: Meaning For Your Information, FYI is a quick way of telling someone that they don’t need to do anything with the email other than read it.

  • NRN: Similar to FYI, NRN, or No Response Needed, signals to the recipient that they can read the email whenever it’s convenient.

  • Response Needed: If you need an answer to a question but there’s no deadline attached to it, writing “response needed” is a helpful cue to your recipient that they need to spend some time on your email.

  • For Review: Similarly, when you have completed a project that needs approval, writing “for review” tells the recipient that you have completed your work and that the email you sent isn’t a question or update about the project.

There are countless ways to craft email subject lines. Some companies prefer strict systems in which all employees use the same abbreviations and formats. I tend to steer clear of hard rules around email communication with one notable exception: repeat emails. If someone is pulling a weekly or monthly report, the subject lines should always follow the same format so that you can easily find and access all similar emails.

Ensuring that your team addresses these three areas in all of their email communications will make everyone more efficient at managing the potential black hole of office email.